David Fincher is a director who is all about silhouettes, repeated action-take shots, faded scoring, and cinematography. He is an auteur director who found his inspiration to be a filmmaker from the George Roy Hill classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). In Mank, Fincher’s well-known film elements are there, however, this movie is different than what his fans normally love. His father, Jack Fincher (who was born in 1930 and died in 2003), wrote the screenplay for Mank based on the era in which he lived. Mank is a biographical setup with black and white cinematography. The film is a true story that transitions between present and past through the life of Herman J. Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman), called Mank for short. The performance by Oldman as Mank is enthralling. Mank’s connections and subsequent withdrawals with various people in the era of 1930s Hollywood is thought-provoking. The luminous story is where the film is a triumph due to the brilliant acting by Oldman and directing by Fincher.
The plot of the film is solely focused on Herman J. Mankiewicz. Throughout the film, the movie business is featured during an era when there were no technological advancements. The film shows Mank in many endeavors ranging from coming up with film ideas for success to determining what studios are looking for. Most importantly, the story is about Mank trying to achieve accomplishments in the film industry, while also dealing with his alcohol abuse. The other characters question Mank and his behavior throughout the movie. They include Marion Davies (played by Amanda Seyfried), Rita Alexander (played by Lily Collins), Charles Lederer (played by Joseph Cross), William Randolph Hearst (played by Charles Dance), and many other important characters who question his decisions. The worrisome, yet entertaining factor is that the scenes take place during the development of the Orson Welles’ classic Citizen Kane (which officially released in 1941). Oldman has the sense of humor, the looks, and the egotistical manner which defines his performance and makes it Oscar-worthy.
I found myself having to pay more attention to Mank to stay interested. Most of Fincher’s films hold your attention with his action scenes and harrowing moments. To be entertained by Mank, it requires viewers closely follow the story and the characters. While watching the film, I had to focus on the conversations and the various conflicts to keep myself abreast of the premise. Mank’s erratic humor can almost lead towards disbelief. “But you sir, how formidable people like you might be if they actually gave at the office.” This quote is from a conversation with one of the filmmakers and it truly shows that everyone associated with Mank knows he is a self-absorbed cynical jerk much of the time. Mank does not care, and that is where I found the movie captivating. Specifically, he keeps pushing to take risks with his films and his health issues in order to make bank in a time when Hollywood’s focus was on the content speaking to audiences over the plot of films.
Mank is brilliant with its acting, its story, and its structure, but it is quiet. I enjoyed it, but not as much as originally expected. Some portions were rewarding mainly due to the cinematography, the writing, and how faithful it is to the life of Herman J. Mankiewicz through the eyes of David Fincher and his father. I believe that it is an essential film that simply requires viewers to think…a lot. Three stars.